Blame it on his genes, but you just cannot categorize Ankur Jain as simply someone who is born with a silver spoon. This 28-year-old lad, after all, has successfully traversed through the tough world of entrepreneurship to emerge from the shadow of his father Naveen Jain. In case if you are wondering who is Naveen Jain then at one point of time he was one of the biggest names in the American corporate world. Those were heydays of the dot-com bubble when Naveen Jain’s company InfoSpace was among the most sought-after global companies.
Flash forward to his son Ankur then he has given enough reasons to make his dad really proud. This young man was named the Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in October 2017. He was also recognized as the “Best Connected 21-year-old-in the World” by Inc. Having cemented his reputation, he is also among sought-after guests in popular business channels like CNBC and Fox Business Network.
But all these glorifying success, of course, did not come all that easily for this Indian American lad. Ankur Jain’s success journey actually smacks off a classic underdog story where the lead actor had to prove his mettle to the world.
Ankur’s tryst with entrepreneurship started at the tender age of 11 when he started a small website focused on teenage kids. This website was helping this young boy to make $200 every month. $200 was not bad for a young boy who was barely acquainted with entrepreneurship. What was also not bad was the fact that this small website had taught this school kid to crack advertising deals with offline retailers. As a small boy, Ankur was able to convince some of the retailers that it was more than beneficial to advertise their products on his websites.
So at an age when innocence was still bursting in this young boy’s heart, he was successfully learning the tricks and trades of business. His entrepreneurial wizardry, of course, was duly taken note by his father. As the years passed by Naveen made a point to push his young son in the entrepreneurial world. He encouraged him to pitch his unique business ideas to his corporate friends at family parties.
Ankur’s entrepreneurial training got further sharpened when his father started taking him to company board meetings and presentations. These meetings and presentations not only proved enlightening but also quite overwhelming, especially when his father used to stop a meeting in between only to know Ankur’s worthy opinions. That may have been overwhelming as well as little scary for a young boy, but he knew that his father was preparing for the tough world that awaited him.
Ankur though was not ready to wait till his adulthood to launch his first company. He wanted to get the experience of running a company when he was still in a school. Hence this impatient lad started his first web company Starnium when he was still in the seventh grade. Of course, His father’s awe-inspiring success in the corporate world was a big motivating factor to start a company at such a young age.
When most boys of his age were busy completing their school home works, Naveen’s son was busy figuring out a strategy to sell desktop wallpapers, jokes, and games to a lot of young web surfers. His earlier entrepreneurial stint certainly helped him, but this time Ankur brought a certain degree of professionalism to his entrepreneurial instincts. It was clear that he was imitating his father and wanted Starnium to ride the dot-com boom, just like InfoSpace did.
However, destiny took a cruel turn for Naveen Jain when his company InfoSpace collapsed in the wake of dot-com crash in 2000. Following the crash, all hell broke loose as InfoSpace’s valuation nosedived and so did Naveen’s fortune. Worse, Naveen’s reputation also took a big hit after he was accused of misleading the investors. The accusations eventually led to his ouster as a CEO in 2002 as the world had completely turned its back against him.
Ankur couldn’t do much as he helplessly saw his father’s business crumbling down. These events though weighed heavily on his innocent shoulders as he got to see the dark side of being an entrepreneur. At a very young age, he learnt that if entrepreneurship can bring lots of glory then it can also ruthlessly crush you down. But more importantly, Ankur never stopped idealizing his father. He was and is still an idol for him.
Founding Kairos Society & starting another business venture
Ankur’s big push towards entrepreneurship finally came when he enrolled for Wharton’s undergraduate business program. With teenage years well behind him, he was now bracing for adulthood in infectious ambience of Wharton, where entrepreneurship literally oozed in the air. This only made him more impatient to venture into startup in a big way. He obviously could not have turned to anyone else but his own father for seeking sane advice.
Surprisingly, Naveen Jain said ‘no’ to his son’s audacious pursuit. Instead, he encouraged his restless son to start a non-profit organization for budding entrepreneurs. That got Ankur thinking and put him straight into slew of actions that eventually resulted in the formation of Kairos Society, an incubator company that would help budding as well as aspiring entrepreneurs.
The entire idea behind Kairos Society was to transform scores of fledgling startups into highly disruptive companies. However, Ankur says he didn’t start Kairos with the intention of earning more money but to pursue his lifelong passion for learning. He felt there were people who had knowledge and influence even beyond the sort he’d glimpsed at his father’s parties.
Kairos had a smooth start with many people pitching in to help Ankur. Ankur, of course, did not hesitate in leveraging his father’s vast network for his new venture. As a result, he managed to bring in some highly influential people as motivational speakers. He brought no less than Former U.S. President Bill Clinton as a speaker.
But Ankur could have ill afford to purely rely on his father’s vast network for transforming Kairos Society into a successful organization. He certainly had to do as much hard work as all the budding entrepreneurs that he was planning to guide. He had to chase the right startups to ensure that he was taking the right bets.
As the years passed by Kairos became more ambitious as it focused on truly revolutionary & disruptive startups. It adapted the mission to focus on futuristic startups that are focused on solving problems faced by society and world at large. Ankur not only brought all his knowledge that he had acquired over the years but also had to depend on his intuition for successfully guiding these promising startups.
It was collective leap of faith that Ankur was taking along with these bunch of startups. And oh boy they did make their efforts really worth it. As of 2017, Kairos Society pumped more than $600 mn in various startups and today collectively these startups boast valuation of more $3 billion. It was owing to this tremendous success that Kairos Society was made a partner in former President Barack Obama’s Startup America Partnership.
And by the way, there was also another interesting phase in Ankur’s life when he temporarily quit Kairos Society. This was way back in 2012 when he decided to go solo to start his own startup called ‘Humin.’ Humin developed a new address book that organized contacts by contextual cues. The startup went on to raise $15 Mn before it was acquired by Tinder in 2016. Humin’s successful acquisition once again demonstrated Ankur’s entrepreneurial pedigree.
Ankur stayed at Tinder as a Vice President of product at Tinder until 2017 before returning back to Kairos. Today he is back in the role of motivating and pushing ahead some of the promising startups that are busy solving some of the biggest problem faced by the world.
Ankur’s successful entrepreneurial journey can be summed up in the following words: Always stay hungry and little irrational if you want to really achieve your dreams. And yes, entrepreneurial success is not always about family genes and DNA. It is also about tremendous hard work, determination and grit.